OXFORD’S pioneering Internet Institute is celebrating its 10th birthday.

And very few would today question the value of its work as a centre in assessing the dramatic impact that the internet has had in changing the way people work, shop, bank, socialise, find information, stage protests and find life partners.

But when Bill Dutton, Oxford University’s first Professor of Internet Studies, first arrived here from Southern California, not everyone saw it as an area worthy of serious academic study.

“Many people viewed it as a fad that would pass in a couple of years, like Citizens’ Band radio. They did not see it as something to take all that seriously,” he said.

As Prof Dutton prepares to stand down as director of the OII he can point to the fact that the internet now reaches 73 per cent of the population.

Other university’s chose to study the internet within other departments such as media studies, law faculties, computing or socials studies.

But Oxford saw the bigger picture, recognising that there is hardly any aspect of modern life that the internet doesn’t touch in a new technological age of fast- changing trends.

Under Prof Dutton’s leadership, the OII won more than £5m in research grants and has produced surveys and studies into various aspects of internet use such as Facebook, gambling and collective action.

“The internet has exceeded what anybody could have imagined. In every day life, it is reconfiguring how we do things,” said Prof Dutton. “ It is not just changing how we know what we know, but what we know and even who we know.“ Social networking and on-line dating has proved a rich area for study. It was found that in Germany almost one in three couples with internet access,who met since 2000, met online.

The great majority are over 40, with one or two marriages behind them. Younger people, it seems, still prefer to rely on real life social networks.

But he said the risks of dating online – as with gambling and internet addiction – are greatly exaggerated.

Prof Helen Margetts has taken over as OII director, and Prof Dutton plans to write a book.

He argues the internet is the medium to empower networked individuals to hold the Government, Press and other institutions to account. He cited the campaign to save Oxfordshire’s libraries from closure as an example of how the internet allowed groups spread across the county to join forces and forge a highly effective “Save Our Libraries” movement.